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Beginners: What Do I Need to Take my Kids Backpacking? Pt.1

January 15, 2011

So this is one of the most common questions I get when I bring up backpacking with other parents.  Here is an overview of what you need to introduce your kids to the great outdoors….

1. Someone with some experience backpacking (if you do not have some).  Because you don’t want to have any significant mistakes/oversights the first time you take your kids.  You want their first experience to be a good one, so try to partner with a family that is experienced in backpacking.  Be careful though…car camping is  VERY different from backpacking.  You want someone that packs light as if they were trekking 10 miles into the wilderness, but is willing to stay close with a beginning family.

2. Good weather.  Have a plan B for the weekend in case of bad weather.  Rain or staggering heat (without a swimming hole) can ruin your kids’ first experience in the woods.  Just don’t do it until you have some experiences with good weather under your belts.  Also, be prepared for bugs if you can’t avoid them entirely.

3. A good location / hike.  You need somewhere that is far enough for your kids to feel independent and adventurous but close enough to bail out if things go bad (like a stomach bug, torrential downpour, or injury).  Also, some special geographical feature is a real plus…a waterfall, overlook, mountain meadow, etc.  See our Trip Reports posts for some ideas in the Southeast.

4. Clothing that matches the weather and terrain.  The right clothes and amount of clothes makes a huge difference in everyone’s comfort and satisfaction.  Having what you need to stay warm or cool, to recover from an accident, and nothing more than that is great.  Everyone carries at least some of their own clothes.  See our Clothing posts to learn more about good family outdoor clothing and how to get it at the best prices.

5. Gear.  Besides clothing, you will need tent(s) or tarp(s) for shelter, bags or quilts for warm sleeping, cooking and eating equipment, water containers and treatment or filter, some emergency and hygiene items, and backpacks to carry it all.  See our Lists and Guides posts for the details.

6.  Food. You will want good food and plenty of it.  But this also has to be kept in the perspective…you will not have a microwave or a dutch oven.  But little surprise treats like sugar free gum and a favorite candy can help a lot.  Also, our kids really enjoy jerky, trail mix and Russian tea on trips because we rarely have these flavorful treats around the house.  Check out our Food and Recipe posts for ideas.

7. A good attitude.  If you the parent(s) on the trip are reluctant, you will not be able to carry your kids past the obvious lack of a TV and air conditioning.  You should look forward to living independent of luxuries with your whole clan even if only for a few days.  Be prepared to draw pleasure from the minimalism, from the plants, bugs, views, wind, stars, camp fire, and your company (family and friends). Ultralight backpacking is not about setting up a home away from home.  It is about getting a drastically different perspective and different experiences with your family every so often.  See our Philosophy page for some thoughts on that.

As always, PLEASE post any questions that you have.  We really do want you and your family to have a good first trip backpacking.

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